This Choo Choo Takes Youths on Classical Trip

By Honawar, Vaishali | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), December 22, 2001 | Go to article overview

This Choo Choo Takes Youths on Classical Trip


Honawar, Vaishali, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Byline: Vaishali Honawar

Four young musicians strum a tune for a roomful of fourth-graders at Mount Rainier Elementary School in Prince George's County early on a Monday morning.

"What do you think?" one of the players asks the class after the long, dramatic strains of the violins, viola and cello merge into the final notes of Franz Schubert's "Death and the Maiden"

Several hands go up.

"It is happy, sad, adventurous," a little boy with a perky face says.

"It sounded like someone was mad," another thoughtful one says.

The musicians' faces crease into smiles at these disparate answers.

"That is good, very good," says Heidi Schoen, 20, violinist for the quartet, whose mission has been accomplished for now: The children were listening, even though the music wasn't from 'NSync, Britney Spears or any of the other performers popular with preteens these days.

These musicians, who call themselves the Choo Choo Quartet, are music students from the University of Maryland at College Park.

They love to relax over smoothies at a College Park sandwich shop, listen to every type of music from Metallica to Ella Fitzgerald, and drive around in a beat-up blue station wagon they call the Choomobile. What sets them apart from other college students is their tough mission: getting schoolchildren interested in classical music.

Every few weeks, the quartet performs for the fourth-grade class at Mount Rainier, helping the children unravel the mystery and intricacies of classical music. The quartet also is preparing a future audience for performers like themselves.

It is a challenge, Miss Schoen says.

"When you perform for an audience that has paid for their tickets, you can assume they like classical music. But when you play for children, you can make no such assumptions. They either like it or hate it," she says.

The children at Mount Rainier love it, says their teacher, Todd Barkhymer.

"They're excited . . . the music integrates well with academics and with poetry," Mr. Barkhymer says.

"I like it also because it is really interactive," he says. "Sometimes it is hard to interest the children even when the performance is good, but they [the quartet] jump around and play with them instead of just sitting in a chair."

Mr. Barkhymer adds that the performances also help alleviate, to some extent, the effect of funding cuts for arts programs in schools.

The quartet is part of the School of Music's "Chamber Music Connections" program at the university. The program prepares students for their careers as musicians, says David Salness, head of chamber music studies. The children gain, too, he says. "Children [at Mount Rainier] who knew nothing about classical music last year are now making analogies and comparisons," he says.

Besides the quartet, the college has a woodwind quintet and a brass quintet that perform for Mount Rainier students. …

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